Don’t pay backhanded compliments

“Your neighbour said something interesting on my way up here. Can you guess...?”

“Instead of making me guess, why don’t you save us both some time and just spit it out?”

“Spit it out? What are you talking about? There’s nothing in my mouth to spit out.”

“When you tell someone ‘to spit something out’, what you would like him or her to do is to say what’s on his or her mind.”

“I see. You want him to tell you what he’s thinking about. In other words, what’s going through his mind!”

“That’s right! It is an expression mostly used in informal contexts. Here’s an example. I know you’re dying to tell us Navin’s secret. Come on, spit it out.”

“No way! I promised him, I would tell no one. There’s no way I’m spitting it out!”

“In that case, spit out the interesting thing my neighbour told you.”

“It was about the speech that the Chief Minister gave last night. He said...”

“A speech given by a politician! Forget it!”

“Did you listen to our Chief Minister’s speech last night?”

“I was busy watching the match. Since when did you get interested in politics?”

To compliment or not

“I’m not! I was watching the match too. But my father switched channels at nine. Ended up listening to some of the speech. I was surprised to hear the Chief Minister pay the members of Opposition several compliments.”

“According to this morning newspaper reports, they were left-handed compliments.”

“Left-handed compliments? Are you saying they were not compliments?”

“When you say that something is a ‘left-handed compliment’, what you’re suggesting is that what sounds like a compliment isn’t one — it is, in fact, an insult.”

“In other words, it is a ‘backhanded’ compliment.”

“Exactly! Sujatha told me that I had a nice smile. But it turned out to be left-handed compliment. She went on to ask me who my dentist was.”

“Implying that that the secret behind your beautiful smile was your dentist. That sounds like Sujatha all right! Whenever she pays you a compliment, you can be pretty sure that it’s a left-handed one.”

“Some politicians are famous for their backhanded compliments. So, tell me, ...”

“No, you tell me. How do you pronounce ‘s..h..o..o’? Does it sound like ‘shoe’?”

“That’s right! ‘Shoo’ is the sound you make when you attempt to drive or scare an animal away. One can ‘shoo away’ an animal or one can ‘shoo away’ a person.”

“How about this example? Revathi shooed me away because the baby was sleeping.”

“That’s a good example. My grandfather spends most of his early mornings shooing the birds away.”

“The kids went to my grandmother to say they were sorry, but she shooed them away.”

“Good example. But I don’t think any grandmother would do that!

“But she did! She was so shocked by their...shocked at their behaviour...Which one is correct? Shocked at or shocked by their behaviour?

“The two can be used interchangeably in most contexts, actually. Indians, in general, prefer ‘shocked by’. The teachers and the parents were shocked by/at the Chief Guest’s comments. They wrote a strong letter of protest.”

“Most people were shocked by/at the children’s behaviour.”

“Now, please leave before I shoo you away.”


Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family another city.

George Burns

The author teaches at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad.

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Sep 16, 2021 7:41:12 AM |

Next Story